On Monday, Buddha started going back to school. It was a little scary, but also exciting. This year he will be starting off with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), which is basically a set of goals for your child that can be academic, social, medical or emotional. While the goals are very important, one of the handiest parts of an IEP is the PLOP (present levels of performance). In this section, a teacher, therapist, social worker, one-on-one or school psychologist adds information about your child with as much detail as possible.

While the IEP does a great job describing your child in school, a teacher will still have some questions about your child when the school year starts. (or at least I did when I was teaching in a school)

Some questions your teacher might have:

  1. What works best at home? Any systems or tools you use?
  2. What type of language do they respond best to? Any specific tone that works best?
  3. What types of environment do they work well in? When it’s quite? When there is music in the background?
  4. What are they really interested in?
  5. Do they do any point systems at home?
  6. Are they very sensitive to touch, sound or light?
  7. Are there any students that they work really well with? Are there students they don’t work well with?

So when starting off your year feel free to share the answer to some of these questions with your child’s teacher. It can never hurt giving information to a teacher. What you might think is the littlest thing at home can make a huge difference in the classroom.


 Just to recap, the wonky place is what Buddha calls his episodes. An episode is an uncontrollable moment of anger or sadness. It can last 5 minutes or it could last 45 minutes. Unfortunately, when a child goes into his/her episode there is not too much you can do except keep them and others safe. Which looks different depending on the types of episodes they have. Some kids are more verbal, while others are physical.

I first learned about episodes/crisis while getting my master’s degree in special education. However, all children, despite their disabilities or abilities, can demonstrate moments of high emotions.


  •  Check yourself- How are you feeling? Are you in a good place to speak to your child? Are you angry already? Do you want to yell? If the answer is YES then ask someone else to tag in. I know it seems silly, but the best way to de-escalate your child is if you are in a calm mood. And be honest. It’s ok if you’re angry or annoyed, that is totally normal! As a teacher, there were many times I asked another teacher to step in and take over. So if possible, tag another person in when you’re home.
  • How are they- After deciding you are in a good place to deal with negative behaviors (i.e. you don’t want to rip their head off). Ask yourself what is going on with my child? Are they hurt? Are they hungry? Are they tired? Do they NEED something? Do they WANT something?
  • What’s going on around- Next, take a moment to look around you. What do you see? Are there loud noises coming from somewhere? Is it cold or really hot? Are there people around that could be frustrating your child? Is it too bright?
  • How can I help- The last thing to think about is what ways you can help your child. Do they need you to verbally calm them down? Do they need a tight hug or some soothing music? Do they need food? Do they need to change? There could be a number of ways you can help your child so trust yourself in choosing. If one thing doesn’t help, try something else.

The most important step and usually the most overlooked is to check yourself. If you are frustrated or angry that is TOTALLY fine and understandable. But, try not to deal with the situation if you are. TAP OUT. Think wrestling- when they’re tired and know they can’t beat their component they tap out to someone else. It’s not as easy. It takes some time to master. I remember the first 6 months of teaching I wanted to be the one that got my students out of their crisis/episode, but once I figured out that the crisis would last much shorter and less dramatic if someone else stepped in. Remember you’re not giving up and it’s not that you’re not capable of doing it, it’s just not the right time.


This summer has been great! No.. it has been AMAZING! Not only have I been able to do personalized academic work with Buddha, but we’ve had so much fun. The pressure of school was off, but the schedules and point systems stayed in place. Buddha received a weekly schedule every Monday and a daily schedule every morning. We read every day, did math and typing at least twice a week and tried to incorporate science at least once a week. We took trips to the beach, we played in the park, he even went to baseball camp! It was truly a wonderful summer.

Since school starts in one week, I thought it would be a great time to discuss incorporating academics into fun activities so your kids can have a great time and still learn/ practice their skills.

Ways to incorporate academics and social skills (which are just as important as academics) into fun activities:

Fun Activity Academic/Social skills to practice
Going to the Beach Social Studies- Reading a Map

·      Print out a map of the beach

·      Ask your kids to mark all the places he/she wants to go to

·      Have them figure out which order you should do things based on the map (i.e. first get snacks, then go to the beach)

·      Have them make a to-do list

Math- multiplication/algebra

·      Figure out how long the trip to the beach will take driving (i.e. its 50 miles away and you can go 60mph the whole way. How long will it take to get there?)


Playing in a park Following multi-step directions:

·      Give a list of 5 things they have to do in a row and see if they can follow it in the same order without you repeating yourself)

·      Practice using a timer (i.e. ask- how long does it take to go over the monkey bars? How long did it take the second time? Which time was faster and why?)

Playing a board game Math- data collection

·      Ask your children to take data on how many times everyone is winning by making a graph

·      See if there is a pattern. Is someone winning more than the others?

·      Use the data to make guesses on who will win next.

Going to the pool Social skills practice

·      Have them practice introducing themselves

·      Practice ‘please’ and ‘thank you’

·      Work on taking turns (i.e. first let your sister play with the ball then you can)

·      Practice being a good team member by playing games with friends and cheering them on as well.


While you might have already been doing these things, it’s important to point them out and continue doing them. I’ve met children that have no idea how to introduce themselves or children that cannot connect math to real-life problems, so start early! Incorporate what they’re learning into daily activities and remember… Have fun!

I hope you all had as wonderful a summer as I have! If you need any help before the school years starts with graphs, charts or just in need of advice, feel free to contact me at alexscardapane@gmail.com It’s important to start off the school year right!


When I started working with Buddha he had these moments that we would call “episodes”. Basically, they were flashes of uncontrollable anger and/or sadness. Buddha decided to name the episodes the “wonky place”.

A lot of my students, most of whom had emotional disorder or autism, portrayed the same rollercoaster of emotions. However, in school, we would call these moments a crisis.

Unfortunately, once an episode starts, you usually have to wait until the child rides out the emotion, which can be REALLY challenging. Especially since the child can become verbally and physically abusive.

What they look like:

It is important to know that all episodes/crisis look different depending on the child. However, bellow is a list of things that I have seen both my students and Buddha do during an episode.

  • Biting
  • Spitting
  • Kicking
  • Hitting
  • Scratching
  • Throwing objects at both you and the wall
  • Cursing
  • Threatening
  • Crying

I have seen students do all of those things to themselves and to others. While the behavior is not ok, you have to realize that it sometimes cannot be controlled. I hope that by reading this list you can both relate and understand that you are NOT ALONE. That it is NOT your fault when your child portrays those actions and that 99% of the time it is NOT personal, no matter how specific they are.

How they start:

Something simple could set any child off. Below is simply a list of examples that I have personally seen set a child off.

  • Asking them to do a task they don’t feel like doing
  • Asking them to do a task they don’t know how to do
  • Transitioning from one thing to another (usually something fun to work)
  • A change in the schedule
  • Something changes about their routine (i.e. asked to eat breakfast before getting dressed)
  • Not giving them attention/ ignoring them
  • Raising your voice at them
  • Asking them to stop something they do not want to stop
  • It could also be medical:
    • Medicine could be too strong or wearing off
    • They could be overly tired
    • They might be experiencing something in their body that they can not explain
    • Their heart rate might be going up
    • They are in pain


Again, an episode is simply a moment of uncontrollable emotions that some children experience. Remember the word uncontrollable, because even though it seems like they are in control, they usually are not. It is important to know that it will pass. And the most important take away is that it is NOT YOUR FAULT. Never blame yourself or your child. They are on a roller coaster so you can ride with them or watch from the side. Either way, you must let them ride it out.



When I started working with Buddha he had a hard time with self-awareness. Something that a lot of my students struggled with.  He had trouble using words to express when he was angry, happy or sad. So, I immediately printed out pictures and examples of what those emotions looked like. I also created a “How do I feel” chart for his room.

Come to my surprise… it didn’t work. Which, by the way, happens all the time! Over the past few years, I have tried a bunch of different tools with children that just don’t work. Either it is too confusing, too easy, or not interesting to them. It is so important to know that every child is different and every child needs DIFFERENT TOOLS.

But, I did not give up. I reached out and spoke to Buddha’s therapist and she told me that a “feelings thermometer” has worked for her in the past. So I went home and created a visual thermometer with numbers and colors to use. This time IT WORKED! He loved using it and found it so easy. Instead of using specific words to express his anger, all he had to say was that he was “at a 10”. And instead of saying he was feeling happy or content he could say he was “at a 1”.  Not only is Buddha more self-aware, but now it is easier for his parents and me to respond to his emotions (i.e. if he is at a 10 we do a set of cooldown steps that I will share in the next few weeks)



  1. Print it out and laminate it. Feel free to add other things to it if your child needs more assistance (i.e. pictures of real people angry or sad).
  2. Make extra copies so you can take it with you when you go out. For Buddha, I created 2 smaller versions and laminated it so he can carry it in his book bag.
  3. Review it with your kids. Go over the picture and explain what each number/color means. If they are feeling angry it will be at the top (in red) of the thermometer VS. if they are feeling content and happy it will be at the bottom (in green) of the thermometer. Make it clear that it is ok to feel any number.
  4. Ask them consistently as possible “what number are you feeling?”. It’s important to ask them this even when they are not feeling sad or angry. It’s just a good way to check in and have them practice.
  5. Give positive praise when they use it. Every time they honestly tell you what number they are on celebrate it! Feel free to give them points as well as an incentive.


Download the thermometer below along with a smaller version so you can travel with it 🙂

Thermometer Feelings Chart

Thermometer Travel Size





As I introduce more positive behavior tools I want to stress the importance of a TIMER. Next to laminating and using the word “flexible”, a timer is something I use all the time. And I don’t think I can stress the word all enough. I use a timer with Buddha when he needs to complete tasks like homework, reading, doing dishes or even when he needs to shower. I find timers are effective for four main reasons:

  • It keeps your child on task– When a child is given a task with no time frame they usually slack off or forget about it. Having a timer keeps them going because they want to finish the task before they hear that beep.
  • It requires less nagging and reminding– Instead of constantly reminding your kids to finish a task you want them to do, all you have to say is “You have 2 minutes left”
  • It helps with independence– The main goal for my students is independence. I want them to be able to complete tasks on their own from homework to brushing their teeth. Once you use a timer enough, you can ask your children to use it on their own. You’ll be surprised at how much they can get done!
  • It’s fun- Turn using a timer into a game. Ask your kids how much time they think they need to finish a task and respond by saying “Yeah? I bet you can do it in just __ minutes”.

How to use it:

  1. Introduce the timer. Explain how it will work and even model it if need be. Make it clear that different tasks will have different times.
  2. Use the timer as much as you can.
  3. Go over the time frame before beginning the activity. For example, say: “You can play outside for 10 minutes. I’m going to set the time and once it goes off you have to come in”.
  4. Give reminders. Make sure to remind your kids when the timer is getting low. You don’t want to add extra stress, but it is very helpful when a child knows how much time they have left. Especially if your child has a hard time with transitions (i.e. getting out of the pool, switching from iPad to reading). A simple “Hey, there is 1 minutes left” will make all the difference.
  5. Give positive praise! When they complete a task before the timer goes off celebrate it. It’s hard to do, so give them the praise they deserve.
  6. As always, be consistent. Use the timer as much as possible and remember, once the timer goes off, that’s the end. Try not to add more time.

Here is a video of me using a timer with Buddha. I tell him the set time before he begins playing and I use reminders as the timer gets closer to the end. This task would have been near impossible 6 months ago. The transition from a fun activity to work was very difficult for Buddha, but using a timer made things so much easier.

Below are two links to timers that work great with kids. The first is a basic timer, while the second is more visual.

Note- Your phone or watch can be just as effective, but it’s better to use a visual clock with your child first before moving onto a timer that only you can see.

Timer 1:



Timer 2: